Jamari McCollough played all of three games on kickoff coverage and kickoff return in his first three seasons in Maryland’s program.
It wasn’t an extensive resume. It wasn’t even a great resume. But as spring practice and summer workouts came and went, the self-assured junior believed he should be starting for the Terrapins.
Maryland’s staff thought otherwise, shifting incoming freshman Kenny Tate from wideout to strong safety in August and leaving McCollough to battle for a third-team spot.
Fed up with sporadic practice snaps and a reasonably bleak forecast for future playing time, McCollough arranged a meeting in the final week of camp with coach Ralph Friedgen, defensive coordinator Chris Cosh and secondary coach Kevin Lempa.
McCollough had one basic request.
“It was basically, ‘Give me an opportunity to show you what I can do,’” McCollough recalled this week.
So they did, a decision that becomes more valuable each week for the Terrapins (5-2, 2-1 ACC), who host N.C. State (2-5, 0-3) on Saturday.
McCollough left the discussion with a mandate to show he could be a more physical option for the Terps. Within a month, he played part time at free safety when Terrell Skinner missed two games with a high ankle sprain.
This week, he shifts over to cornerback and likely will play in Maryland’s nickel package, a necessity after senior Kevin Barnes (fractured shoulder blade) was lost for the season. Defensive backs don’t often move from safety to corner, which only validates McCollough’s significance in the program.
“I think he’s one of the more improved players,” Friedgen said. “I’m pretty pleased and also pretty proud of the way he’s come back. When I moved Tate over there, he came in and he was upset. I just told him I wasn’t really convinced you could play after spring practice, and he’s taken his game to a whole other level. He’s kind of showed me, and that’s good.”
It just took him a while.
McCollough entered school in 2005, a cocksure cornerback who needed just one practice torching from former Terps receiver Jo Jo Walker to realize how different college was from high school.
When McCollough came back to camp a year later, he was moved to safety and seemed like a possibility for the Terps’ dime package. But he tore his ACL during camp and missed the entire season, and then waited until the final three games last season before earning time on special teams.
That set up his in-camp frustrations and the dose of reality Friedgen delivered in response to his questions. McCollough, though, quickly set to work to show the Terps’ coaches how useful he could be this season.
He knew he would be challenged soon enough, especially given the staff’s belief that he might struggle against the run, so he improved his tackling and was prepared for an exam of physicality in practice.